Israeli Air Strike on Iran: Plans and Consequences
Andrei AKULOV | 15.02.2012 | WORLD

Israeli Air Strike on Iran: Plans and Consequences

Everything points to the fact that Israeli’s air attack on Iran is imminent. Israeli leaders have been claiming Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons capability since the early 1990s, and defense and intelligence officials have issued a series of ever-changing estimates on how close Iran is to the bomb. But today the saber-rattling has become much more vibrant and openly spoken. It starts to cause jitters in world capitals and financial markets. There is a growing possibility an attack may take place over the next few months. There are a lot of reports confirming this point of view in U.S. media and not only.

Speculation has been building that Israel keeps a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities as an option on the table following the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency indicating that Tehran was producing 20% enriched uranium at its Fordo plant near Qom. The U.S. has recently imposed sanctions on Iran's central bank and three oil companies, which trade with the country. The European Union has taken a decision to impose an embargo on Iran's oil exports.

Top world dignitaries, including the U.N. chief and chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, have stopped in Israel recently to urge its leadership to give the diplomatic process and the sanctions imposed by the USA and the EU more time to work. The US president Obama expects a lot from sanctioning the Iran’s central bank. But Israel appears to stand firm. General Dempsey was told Israel would take the decision alone without consultations with the USA giving it a 12 hours notice only. U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta has reportedly concluded that an Israeli attack on Iran is likely in the coming months. The US defense chief told a Washington Post columnist David Ignatius Israel may decide to attack it as early as this spring1 before Iran acquires the capability to produce a fully-fledged nuclear bomb.

On February 2, Defense Minister Ehud Barak claimed during at the annual Herzliya security conference held in Israel that there is a "wide global understanding that military action may be needed”. He said: “There is no argument about the intolerable danger a nuclear Iran would pose to the future of the Middle East, the security of Israel and to the economic and security stability of the entire world." Israeli officials at the conference asserted that Iran has already produced enough enriched uranium to eventually build four rudimentary nuclear bombs and was even developing missiles capable of reaching the U.S. A day earlier, visiting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon tried to do his best to convince Israel to find a peaceful solution to the nuclear standoff.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu frequently draws parallels between modern-day Iran and Nazi Germany on the eve of the Holocaust. Israel views Iran as a mortal threat, citing Iranian calls for Israel's destruction, Iran's support for anti-Israel militant groups and Iranian missile technology capable of striking Israel. On February 3, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel a "cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut," and boasted of supporting any group that will challenge the Jewish state.

REASONS BEHIND

Why is the issue coming to a head with such unfortunate timing, with the U.S. and Israel election looming and the global economy facing a bumpy road ahead?

Israel has less time to act than the U.S. if it chooses to mount a strike alone. Because Israel has less firepower, its leaders assess that a unilateral strike would be most effective before summer. After that, by Israeli estimates, Iran may have been able to move too much of its nuclear operation underground, beyond the range of Israeli missile and bomb attacks.

There is another reason for intensifying the Israeli warnings. Israel and the United States disagree about how much time that leaves for diplomacy or a military strike as a last-ditch option. Israeli officials who favor a strike do not want to wait for Iran to amass enough material to build a bomb, a debatable moment that could be as little as six months away as they say. U.S. officials are concerned that the ability to make a bomb is not enough justification for a strike. They have argued there is a year and a half or even more at their disposal before Iran would pose an immediate nuclear threat in pure material form.

At the Herzliya security conference, Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon, a former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, said all of Iran's nuclear installations are still vulnerable to military strikes. He appeared to contradict assessments of foreign experts and Israeli defense officials that it would be difficult to strike sensitive Iranian nuclear targets hidden deep underground.

US officials acknowledge the current version of its bunker-buster bombs - considered the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal - may not be able to penetrate Iran's heavily fortified underground facilities. The US Defense Department is asking Congress to reprogram about $82 million in order to make the bunker-buster bombs in the inventory more capable.

There are other ways to cripple or disable the sites, such as targeting entrance and exit routes to an underground facility, rendering it inaccessible.

PLANS AND OPTIONS

Israeli has a history of striking first: a 1981 airstrike that destroyed an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor and a 2007 airstrike in Syria to knock out a nuclear reactor in the early stages of construction).

Armed with a fleet of ultramodern U.S.-made fighter F-15 and F-16 fighters, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and intermediate-range Jericho missiles, Israel has the capability to take action again.

Iran's antiquated air force and air defense hardly a challenge there are still serious problems to overcome. Getting on targets would require flying over Jordan Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. All are Muslim countries and it’s hard to imagine anyone of them knowingly allowing Israel to use their airspace. And with targets some 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away, Israeli planes would have to refuel in flight, a task complicated enough. The aircraft will have to take measures to avoid detection in case no fly over permission is granted. A behind the scenes agreement with the countries tacitly letting the violators cross their air space expressing anger publicly afterwards is a way out of course. Then there is an important mission to blind the Iranian radars and get out of order air defense sites.

The Israeli inventory numbers 55 bunker buster bombs. They are Guided Bomb Unit 28 (GBU-28), 5,000-pound (2,268 kg) laser guided bunker buster bombs nicknamed "Deep Throat" designed to penetrate hardened targets located deep underground. Probability of having accurate intelligence data of mountain hidden nuclear facilities is low, that means the aircraft have to repeat high precision strikes hitting the very same place with great accuracy one munition after another to make a visible crater to strike its bottom next and get deeper. A weapon best suited for the mission is US made МОР (Маssive Ordance Penetrator – 30,000-pound (13,608 kg) deep penetrating munition with 2.4 tons high explosive warhead). The delivery means is US В-2 Stealth strategic bomber. But as yet no such weapons have been delivered to Israel, at least according to open sources.

Israel tested a intercontinental ballistic missile Jericho III in November last year. The specifications of the weapon are classified, but estimates by military experts believe it to be a three-stage solid propellant missile with a payload of more than 1,000 kilograms, it can carry a payload MIRVed (multiple individually targetable re-entry vehicle) warheads of smaller yield., The range is 4,800 to 6,500 km (2,982 to 4,038 miles) – enough to strike any target in the region and far beyond. A warhead may be conventional of course. Certainly it’s a deterrent to reckon with. But it is also an offensive strike potential Equipped with conventional warheads forty Jericho III missiles would be enough to destroy nuclear facilities in Natanz, Isfahan and Arak till they are not transferred into inside mountains installations.

The Heron-2 and Eitan UAVs will hover over Shahab-3 sites while Arrow (Hetz) missile defense systems become fully combat ready. The vehicles can stay in air more than 20 consecutive hours (some sources say Eitan can hover in air for 45 hours) and are used to provide surveillance and jam enemy communications. It’s not known if they carry strike weapons.

Israel has been building stealthy, multibillion-dollar high-tech weapons that that would allow it to jam, blind, and deafen Tehran's defenses in the case of a pre-emptive aerial strike. No doubt Israel would wage electronic warfare against Iran’s electric grid, Internet, cell phone network, and emergency frequencies for firemen and police officers. For example, Israel has developed a weapon capable of mimicking a maintenance cell phone signal that commands a cell network to “sleep,” effectively stopping transmissions.. The Israelis also have jammers capable of creating interference within Iran’s emergency frequencies for first responders. In a 2007 attack on a suspected nuclear site at al-Kibar, the Syrian military got a taste of this warfare when Israeli planes confused (“or “spoofed”) the country’s air-defense radars, at first making it appear that no jets were in the sky and then in an instant making the radar believe the sky was filled with hundreds of planes. Besides Israel would hit a weak point – Iranian cities electric grids switched to Internet what makes Stuxnet worm and DDOS – attacks possible. The above mentioned Neron-2 and Eitan UAVs are the right means for electronic warfare systems delivery to the place of destination.

Experience says Israel will not attack when a strike probability is a burning issue for media. It had been absolutely quiet before June 7 1981 strike against Iraq.

REPERCUSSIONS

Russia warned that an attack on Iran would be a "catastrophe" for the region and said world powers should adopt a policy of non-intervention in the Middle East and North Africa. “It is impossible to list all the consequences (of an attack),” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an annual address on January 18, 2012. “But I have no doubt that it would pour oil on the still smoldering fire of Sunni-Shia confrontation, which would lead to a chain reaction.” He added: "As for how likely such a catastrophe is, you need to ask those who constantly mention this as an option." He also said that Russia would “do everything” in its power to prevent an attack on Iran. The position can be substantiated by the following list of repercussions.

The action would be a flagrant violation of international law. A strike would be delivered by a state that has illegally acquired a nuclear weapon with connivance from the USA and the West in clear violation of non-proliferation regime against a state that never came into possession of the weapon and no solid proof exists its nuclear program has a military component. The West never called for imposing tough sanctions or strikes against Israel while the country was in the process of implementing its nuclear program though it was an open secret (remember the Mordechai Vanunu’s case, an Israeli technician who made public the Demon nuclear facility was used for military purposes).

There is broad agreement among top U.S. and Israeli security experts that an Israeli strike would not destroy Iran's nuclear program. At best, it might delay it one or two years. It may speed up Iranian work on it giving a good reason to justify the effort. So why risk dire repercussions if the program remains operational?

With such a modest result the negative consequences could be enormous. Israel will come under rocket and missile attacks from Hamas and Hezbollah. Moreover, according to Israeli estimates, Iran has hundreds of Shahab class surface-to-surface missiles capable of striking Israel. And along with Syria, Iran has provided Hezbollah with an arsenal of more than 50,000 rockets, designed precisely for this scenario. That means Israel will have to conduct combat operations in the territory of Lebanon (one more risk of “chain reaction”).

A strike would probably boomerang by increasing Iran's determination to build a weapon, while increasing support for the regime at home. Iran will have long-term opportunities to unify its people and to quell its opposition parties on nationalistic grounds.

If convinced that the Saudi Arabia had colluded with Israel Iran may fire missiles at the Saudi oil export processing center at Abqaiq and incite Shiite Muslims in eastern Saudi Arabia to rise in revolt against the government. The shift of combat to defending Saudi oil facilities and Iran's use of proxies may lead to other regional players getting involved.

Iran also may conduct terror attacks against European targets, in hopes that governments there will turn on Israel and the United States.

It will target elements of NATO missile defense network in Turkey if attacked. "If we are threatened, initially we are prepared to target the NATO missile shields in Turkey and then we will target other places,” Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force, said on November 26, 2011 to Mehr news agency. Turkey hosts a US early warning radar, an important element of NATO missile defense. That means an attack on a NATO member.

Even if Iran didn't doesn’t block the Strait of Hormuz, oil prices would spike, further hurting the global economy. The entire Mideast region would be further destabilized.

Even if Israel attacks on its own, the United States the blame will be put on the USA (if the USA takes an adamant stance against Israel it would never used force) with repercussions for U.S. forces in the region. "If the Israelis made that decision, we would have to be prepared to protect our forces in that situation. And that's what we'd be concerned about," US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told "Face the Nation," on CBS on January 8, 2012. The US administration has built up unprecedented international pressure on Iran. Great hopes are pinned by president Obama on sanctions against Iranian central bank assets. A premature Israeli strike would undercut those U.S. efforts before they have played themselves out. The strike would jeopardize U.S. interests, while failing to achieve Israel's goal of destroying the Iranian program. Can Israel survive without the US aid? Hardly so.

The question is: is it worth to risk the very nation's existence and plunging the world into chain reaction as a consequence of unilateral unlawful aggression gaining uncertain results of military action, the likelihood of a devastating Iranian response and even a regional war, severe international opprobrium and worsening the relations with the United States.

(1) http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/is-israel-preparing-to-attack-iran/2012/02/02/gIQANjfTkQ_story.html

Tags: NATO  Iran  Israel   

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